I'm sold on classified advertising

My husband, Ken, so often tries to market his castoff hobby gear through the classified ads - camera, bicycle, old birding binoculars - that the selling can seem like a hobby itself.

Most recently, upon deciding to upgrade his amateur woodworking setup, he listed his table saw and disc sander in our local newspaper.

Disinterested as usual, I resolved to ignore his latest merchandising maneuver. Who would want to buy these squat, noisy, expensive machines anyway?

Lots of people, it turned out. For five days, the phone rang as like-minded jacks of all lumber-linked trades fairly crawled out of the woodwork.

Because Ken was typically out when calls came, it fell to me to pick up. To my surprise, I didn't mind. We'd been getting frequent computer-dialed telephone solicitations lately, so these engaging voices instantly on the line - hoping to buy, not sell - were a welcome novelty.

As prospective buyers asked questions in matter-of-fact tones, I felt flattered that they thought I might actually know something about the table saw's 13-amp induction motor, its precision-milled railworks, or its rack-and-pinion fence. As it was, I could barely remember where Ken had purchased it, or when. Mostly I took names and numbers; he called them back.

On two occasions, I placed the caller on hold and summoned Ken from his garage-turned-woodshop. This required an up-close-and-personal tug on the suspenders of his Carharts, for when woodworking, Ken wears goggles, a bi-snouted breathing mask, and ear protectors, all of which shield him from avocational hazards but render him incommunicado.

At dinnertime, he'd recount the day's interactions. Apparently, our part of Iowa was a hotbed of hobbyist woodworking: fine art, cabinetry, furniture, kayaks, toys. Ken was enjoying these calls, and I could fathom why: Without exception, these woodworkers sounded amiable, earnest, and polite.

By Day 3, I decided to enhance, if not embrace, my role in brokering this exchange. Becoming nominally conversant about carbide blades, die-cast aluminum hand wheels, and contoured housings would save everyone time. So I asked Ken to jot me a cheat sheet.

Thereafter I noted how many callers declared, after discussing specs and such, "I need to talk with my wife; I'll probably call back." Some did; some didn't.

"Where are you located?" they asked without fail - one question I could answer with genuine authority.

I named our town, and the caller did likewise. The closer we were, the happier his voice.

On the fourth evening, after a half-dozen shoppers had dallied indecisively, Ken put the saw on layaway for an eager buyer in exchange for a deposit and a promise to return in two weeks with the balance. The next morning, when yet another interested party phoned, I explained that the saw was as good as sold, but that I would take his name just in case. As our conversation transpired, I learned that Charles lived 25 miles south of us.

He asked where the saw had been stored. "Sometimes contractors just leave their table saws sitting out in the elements," he explained. I assured him that ours (ours? I still barely knew what it did) had been housed in our heated garage.

"Nowadays, it's the car that sits out," I added dryly.

Charles laughed, then admitted that he wanted to move his own workshop from his unheated garage to his basement, the better for glues and sealants to dry, but his wife refused to sell her washer and dryer to make space.

Now I laughed. If he was on Ken's woodworking wavelength, his spouse was on mine when it came to drawing the domestic line.

I urged Ken to call this Charles back, just to chat. Their ensuing conversation ranged from their woodworking projects to the joys of retirement to their respective exercise regimens.

Meanwhile, Ken's sander had excited less interest than the saw. One caller remarked, as they discussed price, "I could come up a little."

Ken replied, "I could come down a dab." But a little dab wouldn't do it.

"Tell you what," the man said, "Call me in a week if you still have it."

That night, another prospective buyer phoned, then drove 45 minutes to "have a look." Upon inspecting the sander - which Ken had polished with a toothbrush until even I had to agree that it was a thing of beauty, our shopper announced, "For once I'm not going to haggle," and peeled off the asking price in crisp $20 bills.

As more calls came, it fell to me to break the news that these items had been purchased. In a soothing voice, I explained that these used implements had been surprisingly hot commodities. "But thank you for calling," I said, even adding in one case, "I wish we had another saw to sell you!"

His disappointment audible, the caller replied, "So do I."

Although I looked forward to a quieter phone as the ad expired, I felt briefly sad on his behalf.

As I hung up, it struck me that want ads are not merely efficient. They also spark connections among like-minded hobbyists of all stripes: those who love antiques, or pinball machines, or baby grand pianos.

Selling recreational appurtenances this way creates an ad hoc forum for sharing one's passions. In the process, anonymity gives way to a frank, friendly acquaintance that boosts the value of the exchange.

I've since told Ken that when it comes to conducting commerce via the classifieds, I'm finally sold.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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